Annual Heck of the North gravel bike race to take place this weekend


Imagine being out on a bike excursion all day. You have miles and miles of riding ahead of you through the rugged terrain of the north woods. It’s just you against the wild.

The time of year has come for the 2012 Heck of the North Gravel Road Race

“Gravel racing introduces something different. It is a new sport that is not familiar to this area,” said Dan Glisczinski, a professor at UMD who rides in these gravel races. “At first, I was like, ‘Why would I want to ride gravel?’ But after one race, it rocked.”

The Heck of the North is the second to last in a series of eight gravel races all throughout Minnesota. UMD professors John Hatcher and Glisczinski both ride in these gravel races. The season kicks off in April with the Ragnarok in Red Wing, Minn., and continues through late October, ending the season with The Dirt Bag in St. Cloud.

Jeremy Kershaw has put on the Heck of the North (most just refer to it as the Heck) for the last four years. The event was inspired by other gravel races, like the Almonzo 100 and the Ragnarok 105, that take place in the southern part of the state.

“I was completely re-inspired to do something like it in the Duluth area,” said Kershaw. “ So I ordered county maps and started scouring … and realized that we had the potential for something like that up here.”

These races are sometimes over 100 miles long and are ridden on gravel, dirt, trail, pavement, rocky, grassy, logged, or otherwise rough terrain regardless of weather. Competitors roll out in the morning and usually take five to six hours to complete the race if riding intensely the whole way. For some, it may take all day.

“You never know what you are going to expect. Mile 40 to 70 just sucks,” said Hatcher. “The whole time all you can think about is how much your legs hurt and why you are doing this.”

Training for these events is crucial. Glisczinski is all about waking up and being healthy. He said his training routine starts off right away in the morning by doing core and going for a ride before breakfast. He exercises every day and mixes it up by hitting it hard a couple times a week and using other days as balance fat-burn maintenance days.

“The preparation is one of the best parts of these races because it promotes living a good healthy life,” said Glisczinski.

“You prepare by riding as much as possible, like every day,” said Hatcher. “They say it’s good to do a mix of long and short days and different levels of exertion so the body can recover.”

The twist to these races is that you are completely self sufficient. There are no food stops or any kind of support along the way. As a rider, whatever you pack for the day’s journey is all you have. If you happen to have mechanical difficulties with your bike, you must fix it yourself.

The idea of the races may seem intimidating, but you can count on your competitors to get you through the day. Though different riders with different experiences, Hatcher and Glisczinski both agreed that the environment of the gravel races supports a great sense of camaraderie. In the mountain or road races they have ridden in, they say the other riders care more about who has the most cutting edge equipment and focus purely on the competition aspect. In gravel races, the riders will mingle amongst themselves and help each other out while racing, and do it more for the overall experience.

“The races provide expressions of opportunity to mature in the way you compete,” said Glisczinski. “You compete with each other compared to against each other.”

In the days of some amateur bike races reaching into the hundreds of dollars just to enter, the entrance fee for the Heck is just a postcard. It costs no money to enter and the prizes are simple medals or donated goods. Kershaw looks to provide a unique experience more than anything else.

“To give T-shirts or water bottles, people’s closets are full of that stuff,” said Kershaw. “I’m looking to provide an event that is an amazing experience.”

Traditionally, after the race, the riders will have a few beers, eat delicious food, and enjoy an evening together of laughter and fun. Friendships are formed with those who fought through the day’s unforgettable struggle.

“The mind has such a good way of filtering out the good in these events that you forget about the bad,” said Hatcher.

*Parts of this story were contributed by Eric Lemke(


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